03 - 04

کتاب: واشینگتون سیاه / فصل 23

03 - 04

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 17 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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متن انگلیسی فصل


SUCH WAS THE WAY of the place, at that time. There was a quiet lawlessness to it all that was often grotesque. The viciousness between the races was bracing enough, but almost as dreadful was the way blacks sometimes treated one another, as if all they had endured in cruelty would be paid back doubly on their brothers. Sometimes it felt as though I had not travelled very far from the rundown huts of Faith.

I tried to avoid all conflict. It was difficult with a friend like Medwin, who sought out fights as he sought out food, as a lifeblood. Though I still did delight in his company some days, I kept more and more to myself, and began to go out into the raw spring dawns to draw.

Each morning, I would gather my satchel of leads and paints, and a small collapsible chair with an easel attached that I myself had fashioned, and I would walk the quiet dirt road behind my rooming house towards the dark inlet. At that hour, in that place, the street belonged to me alone; there was only the scrape of cats in the side streets, the rattle of loose doors, leaves hissing in the gutters. John Willard, Philip, Titch—all of it seemed another life. I would make my way towards an inlet just beyond the headland, out of sight of the town, hearing the hush of the water’s slow creep up the seaweed-choked rocks long before I came in sight of the strand.

How radiant the world was, empty and silent like this. Often, at that time of year, the tide was still receding. Carefully, I would remove my shoes and, still clutching my belongings, lurch over the cold, damp rocks, the air smelling of wet weeds. With the sun just piercing the horizon, the light was hazy and filmy, the sand seeming to stretch on into oblivion. The sea foam stirred whitely at the edge of the water. It was here that I set down my tools. I would turn up the legs of my trousers and, with a sharp intake of breath, step in.

The tide pools were most alive at first light. The hazy air seemed to gild all that lay within, the anemones glowing pink as human flesh, their tentacles open and pleading. Small soft-shelled crabs with lively little eyes, and sometimes a sea pen, its quills magisterial. Some days, if I waded farther out, I would find pansies or green sea urchins, large crabs, polyps magenta with toxins. The jellyfish were shy here, a mercy—for many carried poison in their harpoons, and at the first touch of danger they would spring-launch them, and stun a man senseless.

It was on so quiet a morning, the water bitterly cold, that my life was to take its next sudden turn. I had waded in mid-thigh—my rolled trousers drenched, stones and broken shells biting into my bare feet—when I felt something like a presence. I turned; I was quite alone, I could see no one behind me. But then the light shifted, and I caught a distant silhouette on the shore. Gradually a figure took shape. He was standing about a half mile from where I’d set down my equipment.

I must admit to feeling some alarm. But when the stranger began to set up an easel on the sand, I relaxed somewhat. I did not believe a man who had read John Willard’s poster would go to such elaborate lengths to snare me. In any case the silhouette looked rather shorter, rather more plump than I expected a bounty man to be. I watched uneasily as the man drew out his instruments and began very leisurely to paint.

These early ventures had become my one pure pleasure; the sense of freedom was intense. At the easel I was a man in full, his hours his own, his preoccupations his own. It bothered me that some stranger might show up to destroy it. All morning I did not make to approach him; nor did he walk in my direction. I scratched down my sketches in haste and left early.

But the next morning there he was again. Grumbling, casting angry looks in his direction, I gathered my tools and stamped away without any sketches at all. The inlet felt tainted; even the air seemed to stink. When the next morning I again discovered him there, I understood even this would be taken from me. I raised my hand in an exasperated gesture towards him before wading in. He paused, and put a hand to his eyes to see me, and then he raised his own hand in a friendly wave—or so I believed, he was so very far away.

I took it as a reproach. Who was I to deny a fellow artist his own pleasure at work, his own sense of freedom? I too possessed nothing of worth but these hours. We might even, in another life, have been colleagues. And so every dawn we would greet each other from across the long strand, before growing absorbed in our respective work. I began to think it strange that this person with whom I now shared my intimate hours should remain unknown to me, a stranger so absolute that I would not recognize him in the street. I began to wonder, too, what sort of work he was embarked upon. But I did not wish to complicate matters.

In the end it was not I who overturned the delicate balance. One morning, when I had pulled from the sea a hermit crab and sat sketching the silver arc of its shell, a shadow dropped across my paper and a voice, raw and soft, said, “Oh, how beautiful. What a talent you have, sir.”

I turned on my creaking wooden seat, grimacing against the early sun, and saw her face for the first time.

She had dark, foxlike features, and vaguely narrowed eyes. She smiled at me. She wore an oversized pair of beige trousers, rolled up to the knees. Her tanned calves were quite bare, strong and rounded. I raised my eyes: beneath her large-brimmed man’s hat her black hair was pinned harshly up at her nape, as if it were shorn. She was very short. Her left hand was cocooned in a plaster cast stained with soot, as though she had long ago broken her arm and could not be bothered to remove it. With her good hand, which was stained with paint, she gestured at the half-finished anemones I had left to dry beside my easel in the sand. “You should see my own reproductions. They look rather more like something down a man’s trousers, I fear.”

I must have looked startled, for she laughed then—an odd, whisking sound—and said, “I have shocked you. Forgive me.”

“I am not shocked,” said I.

“Taken aback, then. You really must forgive me—I am too plain-spoken.” She held out her tiny hand, and a moment passed before I thought to take it. “Tanna Goff.”

“George Washington Black.”

“Of course you are. I would have expected no less. First the Delaware, then the Labrador Sea.”

“The joke is new to me.”

“My goodness, you are polite,” she said with a dry smile. “Unfortunately, I am not. Please, George Washington Black, do forgive my forwardness. It’s just—well, have we not been sketching side by side every morning these two weeks now? I thought it only correct that we were acquainted.” She shrugged cheerfully.

I glanced down the beach—her easel stood eerie and abandoned. “I had thought you were a man all this time,” I said. I saw her expression and immediately felt foolish. “It is the distance between us,” I continued. “I do not mean to offend you. That is, I would not mistake you now—”

But she was smiling a most strange smile. “Oh, good Mister Washington Black, I am wearing trousers—it is only to be expected. You have not insulted me. In any case, many have said much worse, standing closer than we are now.”

In the embarrassed silence I searched her face: her skin was golden, with darker freckles peppered across her nose, her eyes exquisitely flinty and intelligent. She was not a white woman, or not entirely; from where had she come? Her doll-like stature made her seem vulnerable, childlike. But she was not vulnerable. She was strong of speech, and of a seemingly knowing age. I could not say for sure, but she seemed some years older than myself, nineteen perhaps, twenty, her face shrewd, her lips red and full and moist-looking.

“I don’t suppose you could teach me to paint like that?”

I paused, startled by the suggestion. “Forgive me, Miss Goff, I do not think—”

“What? You cannot think me beyond all hope yet—see my sketches first, then tell me I am beyond all hope.”

I hesitated; that had not been my meaning at all.

“I do not mind paying some fee.”

“Oh, no, absolutely not.” I shook my head. “I do not wish a fee.”

“We shall work out some payment,” she said with a smile.

“A payment?”

“So you agree, then. You will teach me. Wonderful.”

Staring into her sharp face, her brown front teeth edging over her lower lip, I felt a kind of despair, sensing the solitary mornings of the world fade from me, and grow dim.

— WHAT AN ODDITY, to work alongside a stranger by the wind of the sea.

Alongside a woman.

I knew so little about her. But I would rise at my usual hour, and walk now with even greater uncertainty through the streets to find her already standing at the shoreline. She would turn and wave with her good hand, then wait with her round, childlike arms tucked into the gentle folds of her skirts. For since that first meeting she’d begun to dress in more feminine attire—though even this was not “proper,” the fabric much less voluminous than the accepted fashions. I would reach her and with a quiet greeting lay down all my instruments on the sand and set to rolling my cuffs. Together we would wade into the waters, and I would point out all manner of crabs and fish and limpets and slugs and worms and starfish, and she would wrinkle her freckled nose and narrow her eyes as if trying to commit it all to memory.

How can I describe these mornings? She was comical and blunt, with the loose tongue of a sailor and a rough, unbeautiful voice. She had, most strangely, been born in the Solomon Islands, though she did not say how she came to be here, on the desolate shores of Nova Scotia. She had five half-brothers, all older, and her mother had passed away in childbirth with her. This she offered cheerfully, but I could see it unsettled her still. Her wrist she had broken two months earlier, and she was impatient with its progress, for it did not seem to be healing.

“You can imagine how it has set my drawing back. Better to break both legs than this.” She gave a light smile. “If one must break something, that is.”

“I imagine it is very limiting,” said I.

“It is a tether.” She shrugged. “I could never accept any restriction on my freedom of movement, you see, even as a child. I have always been this way. Sometimes it has served me poorly, but…” She shrugged again.

She wanted to know all there was to know about me. Indeed, the intensity of her interest dismayed me, so that I grew flustered and embarrassed. I could not fathom what it was she thought she glimpsed behind the knotted flesh of my face. Sometimes when I spoke she’d stare on with quiet ferocity—but it was not pity I sensed there, nor morbid fascination, but something like a greed to fully enter my consciousness. The wrecked visage I was forced to carry like an unwanted warning to others was to her a known thing, a familiar mask. She seemed to see beneath it something of her own suffering and recovery—the acceptance of a life-changing wound, the will to go on.

Yet despite all her prying I kept my past my own, and spoke instead of the different manipulations of watercolours, how best to thicken and thin them, when to better use chalk pastels and what paper most readily accepted both. All this she took in like a model pupil, sometimes scratching down notes, and she would laugh at her own mistakes, a sound hoarse and strange.

I was not a person to make a study of such details, but I noted the gentle pores on her long throat, the unnaturally black hair of her long eyelashes. I watched the slow morning light creep across the folds of her golden ear, and felt myself uneasy.

I was surprised at how much I came to enjoy her company. So dazzling was her talk that more than a week passed before I discovered she was already familiar with the many varieties of invertebrates, had in fact a keener and more thorough knowledge of sea creatures than I. Her broken wrist was even a result of her having cracked her arm on a crag of rock while on a shallow-sea dive right here in the inlet. My face burned with the embarrassment of having attempted to school her.

“But you did ask me to teach you,” I said, confused.

“To draw, George Washington, to draw. The whelks and such I know like my own voice. It is the artistry to depict them in which I am wanting.”

“Oh.” I looked away, chastened.

And it was then that she placed her hand in mine. I was so rattled that I flinched. But I did not draw my hand away.

“You will show me,” she murmured, and I turned to her surprised, startled, and roused beyond all my senses.

Her eyes were narrowed, and across her freckled face passed a lazy, intimate smile. More shocking to me than my own desire was the sight of it reflected in her clear tan face. I had never before experienced such strong feelings from a woman, the rawness of her want, the openness. In those seconds a sense of wholeness came over me: I felt the broadness of my shoulders, the force of my height, my blunt, low voice. I was pieced together, suddenly, a man intact.

She let her eyes drift to my right cheek, and her face softened. “Your scar,” she said quietly. “How did you get it?”

I looked into her eyes, sharp and judging, her smile tremulous, the teeth tobacco-stained. I could smell that tobacco coming off her body, the scent of her sweat and the essence of some flower, lavender perhaps. I felt the clench of her cold hand in mine, her skin rough as new wool, her warm breath, and the quick, dull pulse of her heart beating through the fabric of her dress. I stepped forward and I felt her close, and a surge like water went through me, something rushing and hot, and I wanted so much to take another step forward, into her, but I heard my breath then sharply in my ears, and a terror rose up in me. I glanced quickly at the beach shacks in the distance, my fingers grazing the coarse cloth of her dress as I dropped her hand.

She turned her face to the dark houses also, her smile wry and sad. I heard only the ocean between us, the static hush of the water.

“To alter the viscosity of the paint,” I said, and my voice sounded odd, not my own, “some use ox gall. I myself prefer glycerine, but—” I paused.

She looked thoughtful, and a long moment passed before she reached for her sketchbook to make notes.

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